How to Lead by Example to Gain Respect from Others

Regardless of position, leaders are respected based on how they treat everyone around them.

The Father of Soft Leadership

“I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.” ―Albert Einstein

Everybody craves respect, but not everyone gets it. Only the deserving get respect, while the rest get what they ought to. Some people often think that they can command respect based on their titles and positions. However, that is only temporary and does not come from people’s hearts. Hence, in this regard, we will discuss how to command respect from others.

John Bytheway rightly remarked, “It is better to be respected than it is to be popular. Popularity ends on yearbook day, but respect lasts forever.” Leaders earn respect when they really deserve it. Manipulation does not help you earn respect, and coercion does not work. Leaders must show genuine warmth to influence others. In today’s world, people crave to be partnered rather than be treated as employees. They like to be empowered rather than be dictated to to deliver the goods. They like soft leadership rather than hard leadership. Hence, leaders must set an example and influence others. And if the followers feel that their leaders deserve respect, they will definitely consider giving them the respect that is due.

Story of Susan—‘I’m The Boss’

Susan was a proud woman working in a research department. She had worked in the research department for nine years. Her previous background experience totaled six years, thus giving her 15 years of experience. Hence, she built her own base within the research department. Whoever came to the research department had to work with her for some time as per the ‘buddy’ system. In fact, she would guide and groom the new employees irrespective of their experiences in other sectors and companies. So, she began demanding more respect from others.

Ron joined the research department after almost 20 years of experience in other companies. As Ron had a passion for research and teaching, he joined the research department to widen his intellectual base and acquire knowledge, as he felt that research was an integral part of teaching. Ron joined the research department to hone his intellectual base so that he could rejoin academics as a faculty member. However, trouble started pouring in from a few seniors in the research department, who began demanding respect rather than commanding it with their knowledge and skills. Ron did not appreciate it but continued his work as it was part of the training, and he wanted to widen his knowledge base.

Susan was instigated by a few more seniors who were, of course, junior to her inexperience in the research department. Susan behaved with Ron the way she did with freshers who entered employment for the first time. Ron realized that others had instigated Susan, but he also felt she was more demanding as she was the most senior in the research department.

Ron had to author two books with the help of seniors from the research department, without which he would not have qualified to author books independently. It was a good concept whereby experienced researchers would guide the new entrants into the department, enabling new employees to learn the nitty-gritty of authoring books. However, Ron realized that the concept was being exploited by a few seniors within the research department. They did not do any work but would ask the new employees to do all the dirty work, and finally take credit from the top bosses for having guided the new employees. Ron realized that the entire exercise was not aimed at training the new employees to author books but was meant to harass them and get the work done, as any failure to do so by the new employee would result in him/her being denied the right to author books independently.

Ron took up this matter of exploitation with the senior officials. Also, he brought to the knowledge of the top people the fact that a good concept was being wrongly utilized by way of blackmail and harassment. However, the senior officials stated that this was the rule. Finally, Ron thought innovatively and approached experienced researchers from other departments to fulfill his need to author two books with experienced employees. Ron felt greatly relieved to be free of a few researchers, including Susan, demanding too much and ragging others in the name of being the most senior.

From this story, it is clear that people in senior positions and/or with experience must command respect from people. They should not demand respect just by virtue of being seniors or more experienced. Titles and positions are temporary. What counts at the end of the day is the impression people leave on others by setting an example and guiding others.

Level 5 Leaders Command Respect

What goes around comes around. This is the case with respect as well. When you respect others, you earn respect in return. It is like an echo: If you shout something good, you hear something good in return, and vice versa. Everyone craves respect, and you acquire it through the way you behave and act toward others. Leaders are aware of this precious commodity and don’t work for respect; rather, they work for satisfaction. For them, respect is a by-product, not the end result. Jim Collins mentions Level 5 Leadership in his book, Good to Great. Most of the top brass in leadership do not look for returns and forget about what, to them, is the least factor—the so-called respect. These leaders contribute with their passion to deliver goods and make a difference in whatever they undertake. Hence, most great leaders do not demand respect. However, they command respect because of their passion, humility, and professional will.

People are Better Judges

Most leaders like Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Disraeli, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and others earned respect due to their practices and values. They never demanded respect. On the contrary, they commanded respect. When M. K. Gandhi was titled Mahatma (super soul), he flatly rejected it as he had never sought such titles and honors. He did what he firmly believed in which the world appreciated. Hence, leaders must walk their talk irrespective of the results and consequences to earn respect. In this civilized and modern world, people are better informed and aware of what is good and evil, unlike in the past, where everything was kept under wraps and people groped in the darkness. People are the final judges and evaluators; they spot and decide who the leaders are and show them respect.

Respect must be earned, not asked for. The assumption that leaders will be respected based on their positions and titles is a myth. Regardless of position, leaders are respected based on how they treat everyone around them. More than their words, their actions and demeanor command respect from others. Leaders must follow the open-door policy to earn respect from others. They must also walk their talk to influence people and get them to execute their tasks.

To summarize, as people get the government they deserve, leaders get the respect they deserve. Don’t take respect for granted just because of your position. People are wiser these days, know how to judge others, and respect only the deserving.

Professor M.S. Rao, Ph.D.
Professor M.S. Rao, Ph.D., is the Father of “Soft Leadership” and the Founder of MSR Leadership Consultants, India. He is an International Leadership Guru with 43 years of experience and the author of 52 books, including the award-winning "See the Light in You" ( He has published more than 300 papers and articles in international publications, including Leader to Leader, Thunderbird International Business Review, Strategic HR Review, Development and Learning in Organizations, Industrial and Commercial Training, On the Horizon, and Entrepreneur magazine. He is a soldier, entrepreneur, editor, educator, author, enlightener, and philosopher. He is a C-suite advisor and global keynote speaker. He brings a strategic eye and long-range vision, given his multifaceted professional experience that includes military, teaching, training, research, consultancy, and philosophy. He is passionate about serving and making a difference in the lives of others. He trains a new generation of leaders through leadership education and publications. His vision is to build one million students as global leaders by 2030 ( He advocates gender equality globally (#HeForShe). He invests his time in authoring books and blogging on executive education, learning, and leadership. Most of his work is available free of charge on his four blogs, including He is a prolific author and a dynamic, energetic, and inspirational leadership speaker. He can be reached at